Real-Life Winter

snowy Taos driveway

Much cold. Hard. Don’t get sick.

Looks peaceful here, eh? There was more snow than these few inches—a lot more—just 10 days ago, then came the January thaw: about half of it turned into water that became a small stream running down the hill, and then it rained… The wet stuff came with a roar in the night, as the wind at the leading edge of the storm sent garbage cans, a cat carrier, rakes, and branches crashing against the house. One very precious large ceramic pot blew over and broke because I had a little piñon “Xmas tree” stuck inside that acted as a sail. By the time I opened the door at midnight to see what the ruckus was, the stream had turned into a river! In the morning light, debris was everywhere, and walking to our car was impossible without encountering soupy mud.

A day or two of sloppy quiet followed. Then late yesterday afternoon, the northwest sky turned almost black. The wind picked up, the temperature fell off a cliff, and soon it began to snow. Before it hit, I took my sick ass outside and brought in three loads of wood, although I nearly fainted from the effort. Almost a week of cold or flu or some goddamn thing had left me with mucous-filled lungs, struggling to breathe.

For three straight nights, I’d never really slept at all. I coughed so much, my hernia scar began to ache. I had no appetite and dropped seven pounds. To save my wife, I’d taken the dead landlord’s sofa instead of the bed. Like sleeping on sacks of hardened concrete with that thing, and it didn’t work, of course. Every time I laid my head down, I was gargling green slime. Thank God I’m better now and have an appetite, but the damnable plague is in my ears. Crackle-crackle “what did you just say?” and so on. This stuff is getting old, I tell you—especially the mud. At least my mighty immune system has more antibodies in the gas tank now, so maybe next year I’ll sail through.

Today? More snow (just wait). Tonight? Back down to zero! By the weekend? High 40s and another thaw, ye gods. I’d wait to leave the house by April, say, except we’re almost out of bread.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • emzed January 29, 2013, 6:20 PM

    Strategic use of the antibiotics is recommended for green slime – stops pleurisy and pneumonia when you’re that close to the getting ’em.

    • JHF January 29, 2013, 9:44 PM

      Thanks for the advice. You’re right, of course, but I’m much better. Also had a pneumonia shot of some sort back in October. Did feel a brush of danger, though, I have to say.

  • Ken Webb January 30, 2013, 4:18 AM

    The mud is specific to your situation and is a torment you’ve often written about. Coping with it must be hell when you’re also not feeling good. But on the internal front, do you think you’re more susceptible to illness on account of living in the old adobe? Course everybody gets the flu during the winter. In my case the worse doses came from my children, who themselves sort of threw it off, being already well and truly teeming with microorganisms picked up on the playground. In my more isolated state I was a sitting duck.

    In more recent years I’ve had the flu shot in December. It’s not perfect, and I’ve had small eruptions, but nothing as truly debilitating and miserable as in days gone by. Highly recommend that shot based on my own experience. Probably wouldn’t do you any good this year, but in future, especially as we all get older, it’s good to fend off the damn bugs before they establish a beachhead and start destroying us. That’ll come soon enough in any event, but best to fight it off as long as possible.

    • JHF January 30, 2013, 10:45 AM

      You’re right, like my friend & Aussie tech advisor above. I’ll get the flu shot next time. For all I know, the flu is what I had. If so, I’m pretty tough. Also no stranger to sinus infections, blocked ears, and coughing up crud, although I tend to go years in between such episodes. I don’t think the old adobe has anything to do with it, BTW. It’s quite warm in here, often too warm in the winter with the wood stove.

      The mud is more of a symbol of self-deprivation than anything else. The blow is psychic and emotional, as in, “JESUS, why didn’t I get us moved out of here before another winter hit?!?” Which leads to guilt, which triggers re-examination of the past, which brings up memories of laughingly mild “winters” back in MD, and other kinds of raw stupidity and awful mental hygiene. I’m sure you get my drift, as I’ve blurted this stuff out for years. The key here is that guilty people suffer 🙂 …

      This particular spot on the hillside is actually quite beautiful, and I’ll be sad to leave whenever we do—which I expect will be this spring. My family situation having mostly (though not entirely) resolved itself, I’m sure my new inner state will lead us to a whole new deal.

  • Sunday Tidwell January 30, 2013, 9:39 AM

    Ugh, sorry to hear you’ve been sick. For me it’s been 10 days of extreme allergies (clear snot). It all started with me thinking I could hear the Taos Hum down here in Albany, Texas. But it was just the beginning of the fluid-filled, roaring ears, and itchy throat, nose and ears. I’ve cooked my liver and kidneys with all the Mucinex, Claritin, etc., but still no relief. Just glad it hasn’t become the flu.
    Thrilled that you’re getting some mud. Wish it would ever rain or snow here. The lakes are cooked and everyone’s worried about the End of Time.

    • Sunday Tidwell January 30, 2013, 9:52 AM

      My brain must be “cooked,” as that seems to be one of the few words in my vocabulary today.

    • Ken Webb January 30, 2013, 10:03 AM

      Didn’t know you lived in Albany, Sunday. Have fond recollections of making drives there from Abilene with my father in his retirement when he picked up small change delivering the Reporter-News to towns in those parts. Beautiful little town centre, I always thought. I remember the old jail, which became a museum with a couple of big works of art (a Goya?) in it along with local efforts. We liked to check out the remains of Fort Griffin on the outskirts, and speculate on the lonely lives of soldiers quartered there when that was wild and Indian-ravaged country. Wasn’t “Bury me not on the lone prairie” composed by a dying cowpuncher somewhere near Albany? Last time I visited the town (around 10 years ago?) was after a range fire had blackened the ground for miles around. The desolation was a sight to behold, but the town, I believe, was largely spared. Fort Griffin was beyond sparing. I reckon the landscape must have recovered. I wonder if water tanks can still be found all over West Texas bearing the proud words, “Made in Albany, by George” – Mr. George of Albany being famous in his day as a maker thereof.

      Sorry for this eruption of nostalgia in your blog, John, but it’s seldom the old West Texas boy in me gets out of his ice-encrusted northern cocoon.

      • JHF January 30, 2013, 10:20 AM

        Hey, don’t be sorry! I love the West Texas stuff, anyway. Didn’t know half the things you just talked about, so thank you. You and Sunday ought to get along famously, I’d say. Go right ahead and use the comments section all you want for this. I’m very much a fan of tales like yours.

      • Sunday Tidwell January 30, 2013, 11:05 AM

        Ken, gosh, you need to come back to Albany and witness the drought. The Old Jail Art Center, a nationally accredited art museum, is booming though. You might enjoy what they’ve added in the last 10 years. Check out their website.

        My mother is a cattle rancher in Shackelford County, as were her father and grandfather. I grew up just 3 miles from Fort Griffin. Funny that you should remember the “Albany by George” water cisterns. My whole childhood, we drank rainwater from one, and I thought it was such a hillbilly thing back then, what with all my town friends getting to drink tap water. Our water ran off the roof, through the grasshopper-infested gutters, and into the cistern. My brothers and I took turns “getting a bucket of water,” for household consumption. I never wanted it to be my turn when it was dark or cold. We used stock tank water for bathing, laundry and household needs. Anyway, Cecil George’s old metal-smithing shop, where he made the cisterns (each stenciled with big letters “Albany by George”) was in the middle of downtown, right behind First National Bank. When Cecil retired, his shop became an asphalt parking lot.

        I have a personal interest in preservation. My husband and I own the “oldest permanent residence in Albany,” which is a 2-room rock home without a bathroom. It stands mostly as western ornamentation. I think you can google it as the H. C. Jacobs house.

        We are rarely without prairie fires, but we had an especially serious fire in 1988 that consumed over 300,000 acres. It started with a man burning tires over at Baird.

        Albany has an annual local pageant called the Fort Griffin Fandangle, which probably also has a website. There are several prairie-inspired songs written by locals, in the Fandangle.

        I know JHF lived in Abilene during his dad’s Dyess Air Force Base days. (Albany proudly advertises Col. Edwin Dyess as a native son.) Ken, did you know JHF during your Abilene days? What a small world!

        • JHF January 30, 2013, 11:12 AM

          I’ll answer for him—while apologizing that these intricate replies, responses, etc. may be out of sequence (blame the comments format)—but yes, we were in junior/senior high school together and had other adventures as well. His own story ought to be a book all by itself!

          I’m SO ENVIOUS of your background, BTW. Do you realize that? Knowing one place so intimately and all. I’m so glad I got to connect with that part of the world for four years while I was growing up. And for the record, I was also born in Bryan, so I am a native Texan. Small world, indeed.

          “It started with a man burning tires over at Baird.” You are lighting up big stuff in my memory, you are. Geez. May West Texas prevail, no matter what the climate. (And I doubt it needs my blessing to accomplish this.)

    • JHF January 30, 2013, 11:04 AM

      Texas is in deep doo-doo with regard to water, that’s for sure. Not that Gov. Perry has a clue, of course, climate change being a hoax and all. I did time in Abilene like Ken, you know, so I’m clued in to the land and culture. Of course, when he and I were young, the lakes were full. Driving to Brownwood was a special deal as well. Fishing, water skiing, and so on. Quite the saving grace!

      Sorry about your allergies. When I want antihistamines, I use a very effective (works fast) herbal remedy that’s produced right here in Taos: “Pollen Ease Compound,” which you can order from I don’t add it to water like the directions say, but just squirt 1/3 dropper right into my mouth and hold it there before swallowing. Works for me, at least.

  • JHF January 30, 2013, 11:27 AM

    Sunday, Ken, and anyone else who might be interested: there’s a most excellent book that covers that part of the world and totally exploded everything I thought I knew about Texas and the Indians: Comanches: The History of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach. If you haven’t read it, do so.

    I also do believe you’ve both led me to something very cool to write about. Thank you!

  • James Moore January 30, 2013, 11:44 AM

    John – I’m going to recommend a return to Texas. Though our politics are absurd, we still have some redeeming qualities. Marathon, Alpine, Fort Davis, Marfa, (which I’ve taken to calling Marfa “fe” as a result of its faux hipness), and, of course, Big Bend is nearby. I used to see Austin as a reason to live in Texas but it’s just another big damned city now. We still retain some of the things that made the city authentic but, it’s like that old hippie protest song used to go, “Condo, condo-many-um, there’s just too, just too many-um.”
    Weather is generally always good out in the Trans-Pecos and you still get a pretty epic landscape and the occasional artistic snowfall across the cacti strewn desert. The politics in Alpine are pretty conservative but Marathon is turning into an enclave of old hippies finding cheap adobes and a forgiving sun. Ft. Davis is at the foot of the Davis Mountains, as you know, and still affordable and appealing, while lacking any significant amenities.
    Anyway, you don’t have to deal with rich townies and mud and tourists and ski bums and real estate is way more affordable. You might die of thirst, however.

    • JHF January 30, 2013, 12:32 PM

      Jim, I appreciate this suggestion very much, as well as all the dope on what’s happening right now. And I want you to know that I’m absolutely sincere when I say that anything can happen. I have no clear focus on the next phase yet, however, which could be here or anywhere. All I want to do is write, which is something of a cosmic shift for me in the way the notion calms me now. All the old crap is falling away. It’s like I won the lottery but don’t know where to spend my dough.

      I do love New Mexico, I have to say, and I’m not doing anything that doesn’t bring us joy. But I am willing to be led, providing that condition does apply. This hasn’t always been the case with me (ahem).

      • James Moore January 30, 2013, 12:43 PM

        John – there are opportunities to write in West Texas now. And Marfa has a PBS station – “Radio for a wide range,” which has just bumped up its power to 100,000 watts. Very popular. Take a look at the quarterly Cenizo Journal: I hear they pay for good stuff about the Trans Pecos. Also, the couple that bought the Big Bend Sentinel are very good about using local writers. Doubt there’s much money to any of it but it is a chance to get more readers, prolly.
        Of course, I have modest understanding of the need to write and if that’s what drives you, the West Texas landscape is pretty inspiring, and it is as bit of “the last frontier” as the Alpine radio station says.
        I love New Mexico, too, and understand your comfort there. Don’t think I’ve ever seen light anywhere like Santa Fe. But it is a troubled land, too; grinding poverty and alcoholism, which I don’t think casinos have helped much. NM hasn’t quite enjoyed the Sun Belt migratory boom that the rest of the SW has simply because there is a shortage of certain things. May change, though.

        • JHF January 30, 2013, 3:06 PM

          You sound like someone who wants my spot. 🙂

  • Ken Webb January 30, 2013, 1:49 PM

    You better watch out, John – We Texans past and present are clearly a force on this here blog. Is the return of the native entirely out of the question? Maybe not if we keep pouring on the reminiscences.

    Like it or not, West Texas gets under the skin. Why is this? Partly, I think, because it’s so entirely unfashionable. Nobody would move by choice to Abilene – or Brownwood or Albany or Sweetwater or San Angelo. Big corporations aren’t located anywhere west of Dallas/Ft. Worth, and so don’t lure people with the prospect of work. These West Texas places are just what they have always been, even if the externalities are altered – places where people simply happen to live because their families lived there before them, without anyone thinking much about the reason for it all.

    I agree about Fehrenbach’s “Comanches” – and also “Lone Star” – his history of Texas. Both are good reads, written with style and poetry as well as factuality. Another historian, Walter Prescott Webb, who crew up in Cisco, now dead for a half-century at least, wrote very seminal books on the culture of “The Great Plains”, the name of his most famous book, whose theories are cited constantly by cultural historians. I’d like to claim him as a relation, but afraid not.

    Thanks for the Albany stuff, Sunday. My uncle, a country surveyor who lived outside Coleman, built such a rock house with his own hands. You still see them all over West Texas, even in cities like Abilene, the sandy native limestone and the crazy zig zag pattern in which the stones are fitted together. For many years there was no indoor plumbing or electricity in my uncle’s place. On the rare occasions when it rained the pounding of the drops on the tin roof was deafening. I remember going to the ice house in town for a chunk of ice for the “ice-box”. The time is not far off when noone will remember such a thing. Also remember the kerosene lanterns, and water heated on the stove for weekly baths. The place had a rattlesnake-infested cellar to resort to in case of tornados. While I was a kid none actually ever struck, thankfully, but when my cousin bought a neighboring property without a cellar, her house was almost immediately demolished. With the family cowering inside, the twister hauled it off its foundations and wrecked it. So it goes. No rattlesnake bites, anyhow.

    I believe I’m correct in saying that prominent Albany citizens (“Albanians”?) with frontier roots have always been preservation-minded. I’m trying to remember the name of one prominent Albany family in particular I have always heard about, but can’t quite lay my hands on it. Nutt? That’s not quite it, but something monosyllyabic, I think. I bet you know the name, and may even be related. I’ll remember it the moment I stop trying to. Even so, not bad for a half-century ago.


    • James Moore January 30, 2013, 2:06 PM

      And one last thing on this from me, John. At a minimum, you ought to take a mid-winter break and drive down and visit those places, which, I gather, you haven’t seen since your youth. They are increasingly interesting. One of the best music joints I’ve found in all of Texas is hard by the highway and railroad tracks on the edge of Alpine. A beer and wine joint called, “Railroad Blues.” Heard an amazing band there in Dec. called “Soul Track Mind.”
      Anyway, gets you out of the snow a bit, stay cheaply at El Cosmico in Marfa or the Marathon Motel in Marathon, and you get to stop at Sparky’s again on the way. Mary Lou and I will meet you out there… – Jim

      • JHF January 30, 2013, 3:02 PM

        I do appreciate all this, but the day my honey moves to Marfa of her own free will ain’t never gonna come—and don’t forget I’ve been there! Anyway, not looking to relocate—at least not yet—just get a house with closets, a dryer, and a lot less mud. One thing at a time.

        That said, I do love to go exploring. The scenes that Ken and Sunday have described are things I know about and would be great to see again, especially from behind the wheel of a ’49 Chevy pickup with hay and cowshit in the back and a six-pack on the seat, hot air blasting in the window… But if I actually MOVED, why not Hawaii? Lopez Island? (WA) Scotland? Barcelona? I’m just getting started, watch my dust! 🙂

    • JHF January 30, 2013, 2:33 PM

      “Is the return of the native entirely out of the question?”

      At the risk of alienating you two, I’ll retell a little story I’m sure I’ve told before: on my way back from one of my trips to Austin when my sister was dying, I routed myself through Amarillo for some reason. Spent the night at the worst motel in the entire world. It was so bad, I split without eating the free breakfast, just to get back on the road. After a short drive on the Interstate, I crossed into New Mexico and stopped at a large rest area and tourist information facility. “Boy,” I said to the woman behind the counter where I’d signed the guest book and picked up some maps, “I just came from an awful night in Amarillo, and it sure feels good to be out of Texas!”

      She smiled knowingly and said, “We get a lot of that around here.”

      (:-) Hope everyone takes that in good humor. Heh.)

      …”places where people simply happen to live because their families lived there before them, without anyone thinking much about the reason for it all”

      Very well put! It’s not the same without family. I have no connection to West Texas other than those four years in Abilene, so I couldn’t see us living there, but it was a very special time. I really like the discussion here and all your stories. Great stuff! Hmmm. [grinding wheels…]

      • James Moore January 30, 2013, 2:39 PM

        Well, hell, if you are going to judge Texas by Amarillo than I’m going to judge new Mexico based upon Hobbs. So, take that.

        • JHF January 30, 2013, 3:09 PM

          You’re absolutely right, but I like Texas just fine! And if I wanted to move to a city, I’d take Austin in a heartbeat. My sister’s old neighborhood just south of Town Lake would be perfect. Walk downtown, Whole Foods, 6th Street, Barton Springs, never drive a car again. I mean, there’s always that.

          • James Moore January 30, 2013, 3:10 PM

            I like your Hawaii idea better.

            • JHF January 30, 2013, 4:12 PM

              Maybe the difference is that I went to UT for two degrees. Lived in Austin from ’64-’68, then from ’71 to ’75. The OLD days, the glory days, sex-drugs-rock-and-roll. There was a quality of life in the formative period that I can snap right back to in the neighborhood I’m speaking of. I didn’t expect it when I showed up last time, but there it was. A Niagara Falls of memories.

              I know you guys arrived just as I left, so you know something of this, too. But when I walk across the campus, for example, I’m at my alma mater. The building where I went to class, the same damn sofa I used to nap on in the Student Union. The same BATHROOM I used to pee in. I frickin’ loved UT. Everywhere I turn in that part of the city are signposts of “first” things that ever happened to me. My sister was there too and never left. If I walk up and down her particular neighborhood—not the University area—there are psychic and cultural connections that make me smile. The live oak trees and grackles give me a long-ago forgotten thrill. A part of me belongs there, even if I never return.

              You know, stuff like that.

      • Sunday Tidwell January 30, 2013, 7:31 PM

        Oh, I’m with you. You know where I go for a good time — Santa Fe and Taos, but not in the winter. I’ll take southern Florida in the winter. We cherish our time at our home in Santa Fe. Our next door neighbors in Santa Fe are from Amarillo. (She actually grew up in Woodson, Texas, the next town north of Albany, Texas.) The next door neighbors, like us, spend as much time as possible in New Mexico.

    • Ken Webb January 30, 2013, 5:56 PM

      That name just hit me: Nail. Nail, not Nutt! I’m I right, Sunday? Are there still Nails in Albany?

      • Sunday Tidwell January 30, 2013, 7:39 PM

        Yes, the Nail Ranch is still mostly intact. Some of it was sold off about 15 or 20 years ago. The Nails are our (much bigger) ranch neighbors, and Jamie Nail and my little brother, Tom, are close friends. They’ve stirred up a lot of dust together, like I suspect you and JHF did back in the day. A few times their trouble did involve the sheriff’s department. Bobby Nail and Reilly Nail were instrumental in starting the Old Jail Art Center. The Cook branch of the Nails started the Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth with funds from that cursed thing called Black Gold or Texas Tea. As you can see, the Nails were and are good-hearted folks. Ken, amazing that you remembered that name after all these years.

    • Sunday Belcher Tidwell January 30, 2013, 8:36 PM

      Ken, those are sweet memories in Coleman. Coleman has some lush pasture land and record-breaking rattlesnakes. Do you still have family there? The storm cellar story is amusing. I grew up with a storm cellar. My dad was a renegade traveling auctioneer, and he would bring in lonesome objects like old hand grenades or mini-bikes without motors. Once he came home from an auction with a genuine psychiatrist’s bench, upholstered in black “noggy hide,” and my brothers and I put it in the cellar until the legs rusted off of it. Even now, Don & I have a storm cellar. When the sky becomes a mystery, we hunker down in it. I have not read Fehrenbach, but I’ll look for him.

      • Ken Webb January 31, 2013, 3:37 AM

        Sunday –

        You have only to know that John and I were founding members of our high school slide rule club to imagine the mischief we got up to. In fact we lived in different parts of town and were mainly school friends rather than hell-raising good ol’ boys in the off hours. I was pretty solemn as a kid anyhow, a book-reader and paper-route operator – and as time passed became somewhat focussed on leaving Texas. After John’s family moved to Long Island we had a correspondence, and when they moved back to Houston in the summer of ’63, we got together again: I and another high school friend made the epic journey from Abilene in my ’51 Ford to pick up John in Houston, and the three of us drove out to Padre Island and down the beach a ways, where we spent several nights under the stars dreaming of the life to come (we had all just graduated from high school). There was a campfire, of course, and John had his guitar. I had my copy of the works of Henry David Thoreau. The mosquitoes were vicious beyond belief. Wandering cows occasionally interrupted our idyll. Still, the moon over the waters rolling in from the gulf made a glorious sight and encouraged all the rampant dreaming going on. Not long after that night, life began to happen to all of us.

        I notice your middle name is Belcher. There was a Tech football player from the 60’s named Val Belcher. He subsequently played in the Canadian Football League in Ottawa (where I live) and then opened up the first Texas barbecue joint here (called, of course, “The Lone Star”) which became wildly popular, with branches in Toronto and elsewhere and was sold off by Val and his partner for, I would guess, multi shekels. He still lives here, I believe. It’s a small world. Any relation?

        I still have a cousin in Coleman, now moved in to town. My wife and I paid him and his family a visit last summer, provoking the sort of reminiscences that got into my descriptions above. Another cousin (she of the tornado-wrecked house) moved to a place called Goldbusk, which I have never visited but I understand to be one of those boom-and-bust mineral mining towns, now terminally busted and virtually a ghost town, perhaps a bit like Thurber, but less famous. Texas has a lot of those kinds of towns.

        My family lived briefly in Amarillo. It was where I started school in 1951. I still like remembering the walk to school, crossing route 66 each way. But mainly it’s the dust storms I remember from that period – and family picnics in the Palo Duro Canyon.

        Yes, life happens and bends us all out of shape, but our sense of consciousness of places and people as we’ve passed through is forever with us. What else is there?

  • JHF January 30, 2013, 8:39 PM

    Gotta say again, you guys, I love this West Texas stuff. You already have me writing (off-blog) about my driver’s ed class in Abilene. THANK YOU. My brain is reeling from the stirred-up red class dust. What a hoot.

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